A traumatic brain injury occurs when an external force causes damage to the brain. Such an injury can affect an individual in a wide variety of ways, such as short-term memory loss, or difficulty comprehending situations. One of the more disruptive ways it can affect a person’s life is by causing difficulties in speech and communication. In this blog, we’re going to look at why this can occur, and what the future may hold for people with speech difficulties after a traumatic brain injury.
What is a traumatic brain injury?
Traumatic brain injuries, also known as intracranial injuries or TBIs, can be placed into one of two categories. The first is a penetrating injury, which is when the damage is a result of a foreign object penetrating the skull. The side-effects of a penetrating brain injury will depend on which part of the brain has been damaged. For example, damage to the parietal lobe can affect hand-eye coordination, or your ability to do sums. Speech difficulties arise when the injury is to the temporal lobes, located just by the temples. Damage to the frontal lobe can have the most wide-ranging side effects, such as loss of movement, emotional problems, and speech difficulties.
The other type of TBI is a closed head injury, which occurs when the damage is caused without a foreign object penetrating the skull. Although the word “traumatic” may imply that this refers to being hit on the head, it can also include damage that occurs as a result of issues taking place inside the body, such as a blood clot.
What are the effects?
Difficulties in speech and communication arising from a TBI can manifest in several different ways. For example, an individual may develop a condition known as Wernicke’s Aphasia, which means they have difficulty understanding spoken words. They may also find that they have difficulty categorising or naming objects they see or think about. Alternatively, damage to the right temporal lobe can lead to excessive talking.
Damage to the frontal lobe can lead to dysarthria, which is when our ability to speak is affected because we lose control over the muscles involved in speaking. This can affect the range of movement we are able to produce with our lips and tongue, therefore limiting the number of clearly defined sounds we can make, or can lead to problems in controlling the airflow from our lungs, which is an often overlooked but essential aspect of speech. This can lead to issues like slurred speech, or problems controlling volume and tone of voice.
Another common condition is dyspraxia, which is when conscious movement becomes difficult, but instinctive movement remains unaffected. So a person will be able to answer questions like “What is your name?” with no problems, but something like giving directions or spelling a complex word may seem impossible.
What can be done?
The prognosis of TBI speech difficulties will vary widely from person to person. Similar injuries in different people can have completely different effects, and can be affected by factors such as level of force, age, and location of the damage. Treatment will begin with an assessment from a speech-language therapist, who will identify the individual issues that are causing the difficulties, which will be approached one by one.
If you therapist identifies the flow of air as one of the causes of your difficulties, they will give you breathing exercises to help rebuild that ability, or work around it. This could involve doing breathing exercises when you are not talking, or learning when to take breaths during speech, for example.
If you are experiencing slurred speech, or have difficulty making certain sounds, your therapist will help you relearn how to move your mouth to enunciate more clearly. This can be a slow process, but can also be very effective.
Our ability to communicate effectively with others can have a major impact on our emotional and psychological conditions, so maximising that ability is crucially important to our wellbeing. It can be very difficult for anyone, even an expert, to estimate how much of a person’s speaking ability can be regained after a traumatic brain injury, but attending speech language therapy will always be the smarter choice.